Human Security in Asia Term Paper

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Threats to security are seen to come not only from external military aggression but also from a myriad of internal challenges -- separatist movements, social unrest, or the collapse of the political system." -- Anwar 2003,

With the international attention given to "military aggression," especially external military aggression, in recent years, it is easy to allow one's idea of was security means to become clouded with Hobbesian and Machiavellian notions of armed conflict, with "war on terror" images of military and intelligence operations hunting down terrorists, and with the debate on nuclear proliferation in developing (or underdeveloped) nations like Iran and North Korea. What these definitions of security lack, however, is a full understanding of the term; military operations and protection from terrorist attacks are most certainly important factors in a nation's security, however, they are far from being the total measure of peace and stability in a society.

Anwar's definition of security as something that includes internal factors is especially significant in today's climate in southeast Asia. These nations face significant threats to their security each day; these threats are not in the form of nuclear threats or military invasion from other nations, but in the form of human security issues such as poverty and hunger, the accessibility of healthcare and gainful employment, protection from the state against human rights violations, and protection both of and from the environment (Henk 2005). Human security scholars assert that the security of the individual citizen from the above factors, among others, has primary importance in developing nations, above that of security against military aggression.

The field of human security studies is vast, and is unquestionable out of the scope of this paper. Instead of attempting a generalized treatment of the field which would most definitely fail to fully explain the concepts involved, this paper will instead treat the issue of human security in two developing Asian nations: Indonesia and Burma. These examples were chose because of their obvious differences as well as their similar need for a more secure human situation. This case study will demonstrate that despite the economic and political differences, both Indonesia and Burma lack sufficient human security protections to ensure their most beneficial situation for both the state and its individual citizens.

To fully explore the situation in these nations, first we will examine the definitions of human security and how they are important in the developing world, followed by a specific examples of how this human security is not protected in Indonesia and Burma, concluding with ways that the governments of these two states might better protect human security, and why this would be beneficial to their overall security as well as the individual security of citizens.


Political theory has long assumed that the principle actor in international relations is the state; states interact in order to ensure their own well-being and, in doing so, ensure the well-being of their citizens (Hayden 2004). The end of the Cold War revealed holes in this theory; there were states who were in no danger of foreign invasion or attack who were substantially insecure. This revelation led one think tank to note that there existed "challenges to security other than political rivalry and armaments," for example, development issues, overpopulation, and environmental degradation, among others (Stockholm Initiative, 1991, p. 17).

These threats to individual citizens, while not military or external threats and not perceived as immediately threatening to the state, are actually a state security issue. Rawls defines "unjust social arrangements" as "violence." (Rawls 1999, p. 302). The endorsement (even if it is implicit and not stated) of violence against citizens is most definitely a threat against a state's security. Aside from an outright citizen rebellion, which is obviously detrimental to the security of a state, citizens who are hungry, without shelter, unhealthy, unprotected from crime, and not fairly represented in government are detrimental to the security of the state in a manner other than militarily; each injury suffered by an unprotected citizen will eventually be felt by the state as a whole.

This shift in the idea of security from something that only applies to states en toto to a value of which every individual deserves protection from outside harms, including those potentially inflicted by the state itself (repression of beliefs or speech, or limited voting rights, for example) became a full-fledged theory of security in 1994, when the United Nations Development Program issued a report on the concept and state of human security (UN 1994). This report criticized the traditional concept of security as "too narrow" and expanded the definition to include "protection from the threat of disease, hunger, unemployment, crime, social conflict, political repression, and environmental hazards" (UN 1994, p. 22). These protections, the UN stated, were much more relevant in a post-Cold War world than was the protection against nuclear weapons or foreign invasion; poverty and disease were occurring daily on a massive scale in the developing (and semi-developed) world; military threats and nuclear war seemed much less immediate.

Individual insecurities, however, like disease, hunger, and political repression also threaten the security of the state as a whole, by undermining the individuals who make up the state. The next section outlines the specific human security issues faced by two developing southeastern Asian nations.


Indonesia and Burma have been selected as case studies due to their separate nature; they are each a part of southeastern Asia but have different security concerns and situations. Both, however, have pressing human security problems in the form of a repressive and abusive military and state apparatus, a lack of internal security demonstrated by internal conflicts, and both lack much of the necessary infrastructure to provide basic individual security for its citizens, leaving many in poverty, hunger, and in sub-part shelters. Below, both nations' situations will be detailed, including instances that directly affect the state's security -- like internal armed conflict -- as well as those have an indirect effect on the state security, such as the quality of life of the citizens and the state of the environment.

First, Indonesia; the largest archipelagic nation in the world is home to some of the world's most stunning beaches and vistas. This exceptional physical beauty masks the desperate nature of life for many Indonesian residents to tourists. Twenty-seven percent of Indonesians live below the poverty line, and after the tsunami of 2004, significant damage to the physical infrastructure occurred that will cost billions to repair. For the nearly 10% of Indonesians who are unemployed, daily necessities are a luxury that they can't afford, and post-tsunami, many families are without their homes, jobs, or any place to live and work at all (CIA Factbook 2004).

The human security effects of this poverty and unemployment are obvious; citizens who are hungry or homeless are less inclined to support the state as a whole, and more inclined to participate in dissident behavior. Crime can be linked to impoverished conditions as well, further deteriorating the internal security of the state. The Indonesian state has been "discredited to the point where many people have taken the law in their own hands...incidences of violent crime have gone up since the [Asian] economic crisis [of 1997]. A general state of lawlessness has therefore beset the country" (Anwar 2003, p. 547). This lawlessness detracts from the overall security of the Indonesian state by undermining the authority of the government and law enforcement, by depriving citizens of their possessions, freedoms and possibly their lives, and by serving as a detriment to tourism, a major source of income for the Indonesian government. One armed group has "especially targeted foreigners for kidnap and ransom; tourists and missionaries in the area are particularly vulnerable" (ibid.). This insecurity of person among both citizens and travelers who bring a significant portion of the economy can only work against the overall security of the Indonesian state.

This lawlessness is not Indonesia's only threat against the individual and collective security; the armed group mentioned earlier is one of several rebel militias in the nation. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have been displaced from Aceh, where government intervention against the rebel group there has created a state of near-war; even more refugees are internally displaced as a result of this conflict, 535,000, than the huge numbers of Indonesians who have been displaced as a result of the tsunami, 441,000 (CIA Factbook 2005). In addition to these displacements, crime and violations of liberty occur against citizens of Aceh every day: "in the month of January 2000 alone over 100 people were tortured, 21 were unlawfully killed, over 400 homes, shops, and stalls were burned down, and 90 homes and shops were damaged" (Anwar 2003, p. 547). These displacements, whether from fleeing armed conflict in Aceh or the natural disaster of December 2004, as well as the imminence of lawlessness and danger, create an atmosphere of instability among these refugees as well as their fellow citizens…[continue]

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